THERE is a reason that justice is often represented as a set of scales. It is concerned with finding equilibrium between acts, often heinous, and the consequences that should follow them. The punishment, most would agree, must fit the crime.
The horror of the acts Berwyn Rees committed is certainly difficult to fathom, depriving three families of men who were simply living their lives.
He pleaded guilty to shooting two men in cold blood during a Sydney gun shop robbery in 1977, and to murdering Sergeant Keith Haydon in Hunter bushland.
There is no mitigating the weight of these violent, deadly crimes. NSW Supreme Court Justice Richard Button in May quashed a previous approval for parole for Rees, who has spent four decades in custody.
"You can't, in any way, in any world, way, shape or form have a triple cop-killing murderer walking the streets," Tracy James, whose father was slain in the gun shop robbery, said outside court.
Given Rees pleaded guilty, these atrocities make it understandable that his potential freedom can elicit such vitriol decades after his crimes. The Police Association of NSW understandably wants crimes against its officers in the line of duty treated with the utmost seriousness.
That is why, perhaps, justice must be blind and impartial.
Theoretically, prison is designed to rehabilitate as much as retaliate against those who have done harm to others. The hope is that offenders can be returned to society without causing further harm, and in many cases that the possibility of spending time incarcerated could dissuade potential criminals from committing offences. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Reseach found that in 2017 the percentage of sentenced prisoners released from custody who re-offended was 40.7 per cent, up slightly on the two years prior. That percentage was much lower among convicted offenders who received a penalty other than prison, and was steady over the prior two years.
Our sympathies certainly lie with all victims of crime, and particularly those who have mourned Raymond James, Christopher Greenfield and Sergeant Keith Haydon all these years. They deserve all support required to help them overcome the ordeals inflicted upon them directly or indirectly. But justice requires that those who have served their sentences and who truly no longer pose a threat be offered a chance to move beyond their mistakes. Of course, weighing whether someone remains a threat to society is a responsibility of enormous gravity. Getting it wrong can destroy lives.
Given Rees' parole has been quashed before, it is no fait accompli that he will find himself freed this time. Given his age and physical state, those supporting him walking free believe they have weighed the risks in arriving at their decision.
We can but hope they are correct.